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ESPN: Chris Paul is better than James Harden

An unpopular opinion is sure to rattle Rockets fans.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN released its Top 10 from its #NBArank today and it had things we expected and others that we certainly did not.

I believe mostly everyone can agree with the fact that LeBron James is #1. It has been this way for years and it was not a surprise. Last year’s MVP Russell Westbrook did finish ahead of Harden at #5, but behind Stephen Curry, who finished #4.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Top 10 was last year’s MVP runner-up, the Beard, finished 8th. Yes, 8th.

James Harden, last year’s leader in assists and second in scoring, who many believed could have been the league’s most valuable player, ends up 8th on the #NBArank. Who finished ahead of him?

LeBron James. Fair.

Kevin Durant. Also fair.

Kawhi Leonard. Some may not agree but we’ll give it to them.

Stephen Curry. Eh. Debatable.

Russell Westbrook. No comment.

Anthony Davis. Hmm.

Chris Paul. Um.

Yes, this means that the ESPN rankings have CP3 as the top Rocket. While it is certainly a great feeling to have two Rockets in the Top 10 players in the league, this is a very interesting opinion that some ESPN analysts believe Paul is better than Harden.

Last year, analysts thought the same. Both Paul and Harden did not move up or down from their ranking from 2016. However, given the historic season Harden had, and the fact that CP3 was injured for a good amount of the season and did not make an All-NBA team makes it slightly puzzling that both players did not move from their rankings from a year ago.

Maybe the silent majority agrees with ESPN. I was under the impression that Harden was one of the Top 4 or 5 players in the NBA and had one of the Top 2 best seasons offensively in basketball history. However, when reading ESPN’s blurbs about the ranking of Paul and Harden, it makes sense as to why Paul is ranked above Harden.

Here’s Harden’s blurb:

Rockets | SG | @JHarden13

Last year's rank: 8

2017-18 projected RPM: 5.17

Stats & Info: Harden scored or assisted on 4,538 total points last season, exactly one point shy of Tiny Archibald's NBA record set in 1972-73. With Chris Paul in town, Harden figures to spend more time off the ball which could spell trouble for opposing teams. Harden ranked in the 91st percentile in points per play on spot-ups last season.

Here’s Paul’s:

Rockets | PG | @CP3

Last year's rank: 7

2017-18 projected RPM: 8.15

Stats & Info: At the league's most loaded position, Paul once again led all point guards in Real Plus-Minus in 2016-17 while finishing second leaguewide behind only LeBron James. How Paul and James Harden jibe on the offensive end will be under the microscope all season long, but it's worth noting that Paul is the only point guard who's a defensive upgrade over Patrick Beverley, who finished second among point guards in Defensive RPM. The gap between Paul and Beverley is the same as the gap between Beverley and the 20th-ranked defensive point guard.

The most glaring statistic is RPM or Real Plus-Minus.

According to ESPN, here is an explanation of RPM:

“[The] metric isolates the unique plus-minus impact of each NBA player by adjusting for the effects of each teammate, opposing player and coach. ... The RPM model sifts through more than 230,000 possessions each NBA season to tease apart the "real" plus-minus effects attributable to each player, employing techniques similar to those used by scientific researchers when they need to model the effects of numerous variables at the same time.”

Paul has the best RPM among point guards in the NBA and only trails Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James in terms of league RPM. Now, that could all change with a new team. Also, Paul’s defensive efforts likely have him over Harden in terms of this rank.

As ESPN states, Paul is the only guard who can be a defensive upgrade over Patrick Beverley, who is now with the Clippers. Both Paul and Beverley made up the backcourt of the All-NBA Defensive First Team.

After the acquisition of CP3, I still believed that this was James’s team, but could CP3 be the main leader of the squad and force Harden to a secondary role?

Who is the better player in your eyes? CP3 or the Beard? Speak your mind in the comments below.